Boyhood: The Power of Generalities in Storytelling

Boyhood

Watching a boy grow up on screen with his fictional family is genuinely moving.

Yes. This movie is as good as they say, and yes, you should go see it if you haven’t already. Here’s the thing to know before you go: It’s best to view this movie as an ethnography of the American childhood, specifically the childhood of this boy, Mason, who we get to watch grow up before our eyes from age six to eighteen, but also that of his older sister, Samantha (Richard Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) who is lovely and provides an important female counterweight to her brother in this family that is so American-generic that any of us can likely place ourselves within it.

This isn’t a romantic comedy or an action flick or a psychological thriller. It’s a straight forward coming-of-age story, and if you remember anything about growing up, you’ll remember that there’s a lot of small shit-happening-to-you kinds of events (school, weekends with dad) and a little of you-making-decisions-and-screwing-up stuff happening (not doing homework, lost virginity), but in general, most of the time, life for most people is pretty undramatic, and that’s the case in Boyhood, too. No one dies or gets cancer or goes on a great big adventure. No one has a disability or is abused or is a beautiful genius, shaping the character in extraordinary ways. But through the lack of drama, and I’d argue because of it, we’re delivered a “story” (albeit without the typical story arc) that is dramatically, emotionally honest and emblematic of what it feels like to discover ourselves incrementally as we do in real life. We also get to see the adults in this movie “come of age,” if you will. They, like most of us, are lost most of the time, and their lack of wisdom is refreshing.

I was most impressed by Linklater’s ability to provide us with moments that could be from any family in America, even though this family is indeed white and middle class, which obviously doesn’t represent all American families in a literal sense. However, most of us can relate to annoying siblings, neighborhood friends, divorce, road trips, homework, teachers who rat you out to your parents, teachers who badger you to be better, step-parents who fuck with your head, first loves, peer pressure, crappy food service jobs, heartbreak, imperfect parents, and a little marijuana smoking. In his low-key way, Linklater uses these moments to question (and kind of answer) the meaning of life. He takes these generalities, makes them just generic enough to fit your own life, and invites you in. This movie doesn’t wrap its characters’ lives up in neat packages, ending with a message of grace and understanding. No. This movie leaves everything a mess, as it should be, as it really is. For that reason, this movie is brilliant and beautiful.

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